MURPHYSBORO — For years, decades in fact, since the Murphysboro Apple Festival started, Lawanda Fager said she has been there watching and enjoying them.
As a young woman in her early to mid-20s, it started out with her new husband, then their six children over 10 years and finally grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She will be at this year’s parade, too, but not as a spectator. She was the Grand Marshal of Saturday's Grand Parade, leading what some call the oldest and biggest parade in Southern Illinois, which starts at 11 a.m. Saturday, traveling on Walnut Street. Fager was given the honor as a lifelong Murphysboro resident who has made innumerable contributions to the city and has a history as long, if not longer than that of the parade, which started in 1952. Fager is 91.
Fager said she had no idea the honor was coming, but was humbled and appreciative of it. Alongside the festival's mascot, Captain Applesauce, Murphysboro City Mayor Will Stephens, Founders Awardee Michael Ruiz and Apple Festival Prince Lemar Treshansky and Princess Ava Campos and Fager tossed apples into Wednesday evening's crowd to signal the official opening of the 2017 festival.
“I want to say thank you to all this honor that’s given to me,” Fager told the crowd at Wednesday’s evening Apple Festival kickoff. ‘I don’t feel like I’m any different than any one of all of you sitting out there and I really appreciate this. … I’m honored to be able to do this.”
Festival organizers said they were looking for someone who would reflect this year's theme, a historical retrospective of "Remember When."
Fager was born in Murphysboro, where she grew up and graduated from the Murphysboro Township High School. She married Victor Fager, another lifelong Murphysboro resident, in the late 1940s; the couple was married 57 years, when Victor died in 2004.
Lawanda Fager was in her mid-20s when Murphysboro’s first Apple Festival was held. She said she has attended every event; the Kiddie Parade is her all-time favorite, still, she said.
Fager said she was a work-from-home mother, raising her children while her husband, Victor, worked outside the home supporting them in construction. The family lived on a farm.
She loved to sew, and made her children’s clothes, and gardened, activities that led into her work with the 4-H. In 2015, she was honored for 50 years of service.
She is apparently a very busy and active 91-year-old, driving herself to Wednesday morning Apple Festival prayer breakfast. Her children call her the “Ever Ready Bunny,” Apple Festival pageant co-chair Gaye Youngman told those gathered at Wednesday's event.
In addition to helping out at 4-H and being a 59-year-member of the Home Extension, Fager works at the Murphysboro Food Bank weekly and at the community garden. She also delivers meals with Meals-On-Wheels and visits those who are sick and home-bound with the Sunshine Team. She is also involved with the Lutheran Women Missionary League and helps during the church’s pre-school lunch. She maintains such a youthful air with a weekly exercise class and a line-dance class.
She said one thing she likes about the Murphysboro Apple Festival is that it unites the community, encouraging people from all over to come together. Youngman noted that Wednesday night’s crowd did appear to be larger than usual, she thinks in part because of the pleasant if slightly overcast weather, the performance by the Murphysboro middle and high school choirs and a Missing Man flyover from the Local EAA Chapter 277.
“I’m just proud of Murphysboro — always have been and always will be,” Fager said. “And I think that (the Murphysboro Apple Festival) brings all of the community together."